A dangerous Anoka County intersection is about to get a big makeover.
The federal government awarded the county a $10 million grant to begin overhauling the accident-prone intersection in Ramsey. The infusion of new money is the long-awaited last piece of the financial puzzle.
The multimillion-dollar project is scheduled to begin construction in spring 2015, and will eliminate the dangerous bottleneck in Ramsey by removing traffic lights on Hwy. 10 at Armstrong Boulevard. That would be the first and most expensive part of what could be a multiyear plan that would also replace four other signaled intersections turning the expressway into a modified freeway.
“This is the last expressway” in the state system, Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte said. “It is an unsafe and ineffective way for people to travel. This area is the most challenging, and that’s why it’s the last to be done.”
Hwy. 10 parallels the Mississippi River as it slices across the north metro, cuts through busy intersections and farmland, transitions from expressway to county road.
However, the Hwy. 10 corridor between the cities of Anoka and Ramsey has had more than 1,600 crashes over the years, including 10 fatalities in the past decade, and four pedestrian deaths in 2012.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken announced in September an additional $10 million in federal funding.
The committed money for the project now stands at $38.3 million, surpassing the estimated $37.5 million.
Still, Schulte said he’s a “little nervous” the original estimate was too low.
“The estimate might be $1 million to $2.5 million off,” said Schulte, chairman of the County Board’s transportation committee. “But this last $10 million grant was so important because it would cover any contingency and cost overruns.”
State and local funding will cover about 70 percent of the project’s cost, with the city of Ramsey and Anoka County splitting the local piece
Now that all funds are committed, officials will begin seeking construction bids.
Several studies, including a noise study, have been delayed, but construction is still expected to begin in early spring of 2015, officials said.
High fatality rate
Klobuchar is familiar with the traffic troubles on Hwy. 10. She has witnessed firsthand the traffic jams and seen car accidents.
“As someone who has spent a lot of time traveling in that area, I know how bad that bottleneck [in Ramsey] is,” she said. “The fact that it’s the most traveled road and has seen so many crashes … It was one of those projects that bugged me for years and I knew we needed to fix it for safety purposes.”
The corridor has had a fatality rate in the past three years of about one fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, 50 percent more than on similar metro-area highways, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation officials.
The project plan includes constructing an interchange, building an overpass over the nearby railway tracks, widening the corridor and constructing a pedestrian walkway, officials said. The new walkway is a direct result of several fatal accidents involving pedestrians walking across the highway.
“That new grant was huge,” said county highway engineer Doug Fischer, who added that the project comes after five years of planning. “Nothing should be getting in our way now.”
However, several businesses located off the Armstrong Boulevard intersection say the project will not be helping any stores in that area. Some might even be forced to shut down.
Todd Belden, manager at Roadside Furniture, said he does not believe the construction is strictly for public safety, but is part of a larger effort to make the area more appealing.
“I think they are trying to get the overpass to sell the land and get bigger-box stores here,” he said.
Belden said he is afraid the construction will shut off access roads to various businesses and “shut down this whole strip.”
Missy Bettinger, a manager at Coborn’s Superstore, said she doesn’t know if the project’s yearlong construction will hurt the business.
Belden said nobody will know the true impact on business until construction begins.
“For us it’s a lot of nonsense, but it is what it is,” he said.